As the sun makes its inaugural appearance in Ithaca this week and Cornell students begin to shed months and months of accumulated body frost, it’s clear that heat is on people’s minds. Yet, this is old news for the red-hot softball team, which has been heating up Niemand-Robison Field all spring en route to clinching a share of the Ivy League title.
Now, with the regular season over and three more non-league contests left to settle, the streaking Red has a new focus: keeping the fire alive. According to head coach Dick Blood, this task should not be too difficult.
“The ladies have really played with passion lately,” Blood said. “We realize we have clinched a share of the title, but we still need to stay sharp.”
The Red (35-11, 10-4 Ivy) takes on Quinnipiac at home tomorrow having won 13 of its last 14 games and the last 11 straight. Cornell’s recent dominance was rewarded again by the Ivy League this week, as senior pitcher Sarah Sterman was named Ivy pitcher of the week and junior first baseman Melissa Heintz took home Ivy player of the week honors. Sterman was instrumental in the Red’s two-game sweep of Princeton last weekend, throwing 12 innings against the Tigers and posting a 1.08 ERA for the week. Heintz went 11-24 with three doubles and three home runs, raising her season batting average to .339.
Individual accolades aside, the players on the squad are still salivating for one final trophy: the Ivy League championship award, and with it, an automatic berth to the NCAA regional tournament. Although Cornell has already earned its share of the title, Blood and his squad are not very excited with the prospect of sharing it with anyone else.
“We would love to have Yale beat [Brown],” Blood said. “The major consideration is who gets the NCAA bid.”
Brown is the only team left that still has a shot to claim a share of the title. With an 8-4 league record thus far, the Bears have to beat Yale twice tomorrow in Providence to equal the Red’s record. If Brown is swept or splits the doubleheader, Cornell will be the sole possessor of the top spot. Should Brown sweep the Bulldogs, the Bears will play the Red in a one-game playoff to decide which team gets to compete in the NCAA tournament.
With so much on the line, will the Red be watching the scoreboard in Providence?
“We hate to admit it, but we probably will be,” Blood said.
In the meantime, the Red will be hosting the Bobcats (21-20 16-4 NEC), in a doubleheader of its own tomorrow. Quinnipiac currently sits in second place in the Northeastern Conference, having won three of their last four games.
The Red will likely face the anchors of the Bobcats’ pitching staff, sophomore Kim Norman (9-3, 2.33 ERA) and senior Melissa Reynolds (9-7, 2.37 ERA). The two have combined for 140 strikeouts this season, walking only 53 batters in the process.
Quinnipiac’s lineup is led by sophomore Alyssa Mansolf, a Connecticut native who boasts a batting average of .306 and has notched 33 triples on the year. The outfielder also has driven in eight runs thus far.
Sterman and company will also be watching for Norman on the other side of the plate, as the pitcher / outfielder has knocked in 13 runs of her own this season from the batters’ box. Yet, as usual, Blood and the rest of the squad will be taking the same calm, get-the-job-done attitude to the field tomorrow. And when the Red’s offense and defense are clicking as well as they are now, that job will be all the easier to accomplish.
“We plan on staying level-headed and businesslike,” Blood said.
Senior Kate Varde has also made a convincing final statement in the realm of softball lore, producing nine home runs and 30 RBIs in her farewell campaign. The center fielder out of New Trier High School also leads the team in runs scored with 46.
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Assistant Sports Editor